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{standaloneHead}John Armato Current{/standaloneHead}

Edward Lea  

Vince Mazzeo, incumbent ASSEMBLY 2ND DISTRICT Atlantic County Democratic 2019 attend the election night event at Atlantic City Country Club in Northfield Tuesday Nov 5, 2019. Edward Lea Staff Photographer / Press of Atlantic City

Republicans concede in 2nd district Assembly race but say voters' will was thwarted

Mail-in ballots have apparently scored a win for the incumbent Democrats in the 2nd District Assembly race, disappointing two Republican challengers who were in the lead after machine totals on election night.

After the majority of mail-in and provisional ballots were counted by Thursday morning, Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato, both D-Atlantic, were ahead by 2,254 and 939 votes, respectively. They had been down by similar numbers based on machine votes only.

The Democrats declared victory Thursday, and Republican candidates Atlantic County Freeholder John Risley, of Egg Harbor Township, and Phil Guenther, former longtime mayor of Brigantine, conceded.

But the GOP candidates alleged the huge vote-by-mail numbers for Democrats reflect a thwarting of the will of voters.

“We feel that voters in Atlantic County were cheated out of a free and fair election, this time for state Assembly, at the hands of the Callaway organization,” Risley said of efforts by Craig Callaway to get mail-in and messenger ballots to targeted voters. “We would like to see the attorney general and the FBI investigate.”

The Democratic team got more than twice as many mail-in votes, about 5,000 each to the Republicans’ 2,400 each.

“A vote is a vote, whether it is by machine, a provisional vote or a vote-by-mail,” said Atlantic County Democratic Party Chairman Michael Suleiman. “There’s this notion that the proportion on a machine is supposed to match on vote by mail. That is not realistic.”

But Guenther said having vote-by-mail ballots swing so many elections in favor of Democrats — as they did in the primaries in Atlantic City and in the city’s 5th Ward race — isn’t good for the community.

“This can’t become the new normal, where everybody thinks it’s OK to go out and harvest votes the way they are being harvested,” Guenther said.

The Democrats also got a few hundred more provisional votes, paper ballots filled out when someone goes to the polls but is not in the poll book because they were sent a mail-in ballot or for other reasons.

There are only about 80 disputed ballots a judge must vote on and fewer than 20 top-of-ticket-only ballots that have yet to be counted by hand, Atlantic County Board of Elections Chairwoman Evelyn Caterson said Thursday. That is too few to overcome the Democrats’ lead.

Mail-in ballots regularly swing races at the local level, but it’s unusual to swing Assembly races, Caterson said.

Congratulations began pouring in Thursday, with the New Jersey Sierra Club celebrating the reelection of Mazzeo, whom it had endorsed.

“The election season is finally over and has ended in an environmental victory for LD2,” said N.J. Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel. “The Sierra Club endorsed Assemblyman Mazzeo because he has consistently been a leader for clean water and clean air in the state Legislature. We are confident these assemblymen will continue to be environmental champions on issues like climate change, open space and more.”

Mazzeo said he’s happy he and Armato will return to Trenton.

“I’m humbled to be reelected for my fourth term,” Mazzeo said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do to continue our success turning around the city and Atlantic County.”

2nd District Assembly race too close to call

Incumbent 2nd District Democrats Vince Mazzeo and John Armato were in a virtual dead heat with Republican challengers after the polls closed, but were ahead in the vote-by-mails.

He said he will focus on property tax reform and working more with small businesses “to figure out a way to do tax incentives for them.”

Armato had been nervous since election night, when early numbers made them feel they were well ahead, then later numbers showed he and Mazzeo were behind the Republicans.

“I was nervous until this morning,” Armato said. “We were back to a holding pattern that lasted a week and a couple of days.”

He said he will focus on protecting senior citizens from scams, getting veterans the benefits they deserve and helping decrease Atlantic City and Atlantic County’s infant and maternal mortality rates.

The Democrats outspent the Republicans by a wide margin and had a political action committee linked to Camden’s George Norcross, General Majority PAC, sending out mailers on their behalf. One of those made unsubstantiated allegations against Risley’s financial firm.

“They crossed the line,” Risley said. “Being Photoshopped is one thing, but false allegations against me and my firm crossed a line, and I hold both of them responsible.”

Caterson said the disputed ballots are not likely to go before a judge until early next week, and the election results won’t become final until later next week.

State Legislature election results

Revenue, economic variety critical to Atlantic City self-rule

TRENTON — Diversification of Atlantic City’s economy and the stabilization of its ratable base are keys to the city returning to local sovereignty, but so are increasing revenue streams, particularly from revenue generated by the resort’s primary economic driver.

During a state Assembly hearing Thursday about reviewing existing casino regulations, state and local officials discussed Atlantic City at length, including the lost revenue that originates in the seaside resort but never directly returns. Luxury, room, parking and casino gaming taxes generated in the city all leave before portions are returned through various channels, including to the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. In 2018, luxury, parking and room taxes generated a combined $71 million.

Mayor Marty Small Sr. continued his campaign to recoup some of that lost revenue while testifying Thursday before the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee. Small, who served as chairman of the city’s revenue and finance committee while he was City Council president, has repeatedly talked about the need for additional streams of revenue to offset property tax increases, invest in capital projects and increase the manpower of public safety departments. On Thursday, Small zeroed in on one specific tax while addressing the committee: sports betting.

“I want to ask the (state) Legislature, and I know this is not the time for this, but we need help with revenue streams,” Small said. “I want to ask you, I’m going to plead with you — How is it that in New Jersey, (which) in a mere 14 months became the No. 1 sports gaming market in the country, how is it possible that Atlantic City doesn’t get a penny?”

The mayor was referring to an additional sports betting tax of 1.25% that was signed into law after the initial legislation that regulated and taxed the new gaming amenity in 2018. The separate tax legislation mandated the additional rate be directed to the host municipalities and counties of sports betting facilities in New Jersey, with the exception being that Atlantic City’s portion gets funneled to the CRDA for marketing. Since the start of sports betting in New Jersey through the first six months of 2019, that additional tax has generated $1.14 million.

“We want to market Atlantic City, we get that,” he said. “But what about the 80-year-old retired school principal who is living on a fixed income and has no means to make any more money? We got to think about that as we make these decisions.”

What will Jim Johnson's Atlantic City legacy be?

ATLANTIC CITY — At a news conference in April, where city and state leaders introduced a timetable for actions that would affect the resort’s future, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver referred to the man seated to her left as “a knight on a white horse.”

Small may have an ally who still holds some sway in the Statehouse: Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver.

“We will be having future discussions about do we need to examine what the statutes are that describe and define how that (Atlantic City-generated) money flows to CRDA,” Oliver told her former Assembly colleagues Thursday. “There are strong opinions that some of the parking and luxury tax revenue should, in fact, consider the City of Atlantic City.”

Oliver is also commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs, the agency with direct oversight of Atlantic City during the takeover, which is currently slated to run until the end of 2021.

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, chairman of the gaming and tourism committee and a former Atlantic City casino executive, was bullish on the progress the city has made since the start of the takeover in 2016, but said in a statement after the hearing that “before the city is ready to return to local control, we must be certain Atlantic City has the tools it needs to flourish.”

“However, while the health of the casino industry is extremely important, we learned from today’s hearing that we must diversify the city’s economy and find ways to bolster small businesses in order to strengthen Atlantic City as a whole. Doing so is all the more critical in light of the fact that Atlantic City is unlikely to increase its market share due to the proliferation of casinos in neighboring states,” Caputo said. “We also must not forget other challenges ahead of us for Atlantic City, including improving the education system, enhancing recreation and senior programs, addressing homelessness and creating new streams of revenue.”

Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, also a member of the gaming and tourism committee, said in a statement, “There’s no denying that progress has been made, but we need to make Atlantic City truly prosper again before the city is returned to local control.”

Atlantic City Town Hall Meeting

Alumni family donates $10M for scholarships to Rowan communication students

GLASSBORO — Alumni business owners Ric and Jean Edelman are no strangers to giving back to their alma mater, Rowan University — the planetarium and the fossil park there are named in their honor.

On Thursday, the couple made history with the announcement of the largest single endowed gift for student scholarships, a $10 million donation for students in the College of Communication & Creative Arts.

Ric Edelman, who graduated in 1980 with a degree in communications from what was then Glassboro State College, said the endowed scholarship is intended to reduce the financial burden of tuition for students studying in the field he loves.

“It never would have occurred to us back in our Rowan days that we would be here today,” Edelman said Thursday before the announcement at the college’s new Welcome Center on Rowan Boulevard. “Clearly life is more complicated today than it ever was. College is far more expensive than when we attended. And we felt it very important to help students today achieve success without the undue burden of college debt that is challenging so many American families around the country.”

According to the college, the donation will support merit and need-based academic scholarships, and students selected as Edelman Scholars will be eligible for funding for conference travel, workshops and other professional development opportunities.

Edelman said he and his wife, Jean, a 1981 Glassboro State graduate with a degree in consumer economics and marketing, have always felt the importance of giving back. He said money for facilities is helpful to the college, but money for tuition will help the most students in the long run.

“If you can’t afford to be here, you’ll never be able to enjoy those facilities. And while facilities matter, college is all about the students,” Edelman said.

During Thursday’s announcement, Rowan Student Government President and communications major Arielle Gedeon, 20, of Galloway Township, said she felt overwhelming pride about being a part of a supportive college community.

“Even though we have roots as a small college, we’re only getting better,” she said. “To have alumni who still support the vision, who support and believe in incoming students, I just have a lot of pride for my university.”

Gedeon, who takes part in the Educational Opportunity Fund scholarship, said she is a first-generation college student, so she knows how important funding for tuition is in helping students attain a higher education.

“This gift will make the path easier for students who have the drive and the talent to excel in our college and who will no doubt share their talents with the world,” Gedeon said.

Rowan President Ali A. Houshmand said the Edelman gift was particularly significant because all the proceeds go directly to students.

“And given that we are a blue-collar institution … to be able to help them, and to help them in reducing their indebtedness, and to become successful citizens, is really going to have a monumental impact in the lives of so many young people for generations to come,” Houshmand said.

Ric Edelman said that although it goes on in perpetuity, the gift is limited in the number of students who have access to it. He said he hopes the donation will inspire other able alumni to give back in the same way, to help more students attend college without the financial burden of student loan debt.

PHOTOS from Rowan football practice in Ocean City

Hughes Center honors late namesake, former governors, with civility in mind

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — The Hughes Center Honors paid tribute to former Govs. Jim Florio and Christine Todd Whitman and others Thursday night, but another prominent New Jersey resident was on everyone’s mind.

The program at Seaview Hotel and Golf Club opened with a five-minute video tribute to former U.S. Rep. and Ambassador William J. Hughes, who died Oct. 30. It is part of a longer documentary film about his life that will premiere in 2020.

“I tried 10 years to get Bill to do a Living Legacy,” said Ed Salmon, a longtime friend of Hughes who convinced him to embark on the project with a Millville company called Glasstown Productions.

In 2018, Hughes said he would do it, and it took nine months to produce, Salmon said.

“He saw it, and he approved of it,” Salmon said.

Hughes also finished a memoir before he died, said John Froonjian, interim executive director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University, who edited it. The center is working on plans to release that as well.

Several hundred people attended the honors ceremony. Florio and Whitman received Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Awards, while Stockton University graduate Ike Ejikeme, Class of 2018, received the Distinguished Student Leadership Award.

Hughes Center Founding Executive Director Sharon Schulman, Class of 1980, received the Distinctive Alumni Leadership Award. And Resorts Casino Hotel President and CEO Mark Giannantonio, Class of 1987, received the Excellence in Civic Engagement Award.

Florio and Whitman applauded the Hughes Center’s planned program to increase civility in political discourse next year, through a partnership with the National Institute for Civil Discourse.

2nd District Assembly race too close to call

Incumbent 2nd District Democrats Vince Mazzeo and John Armato were in a virtual dead heat with Republican challengers after the polls closed, but were ahead in the vote-by-mails.

They called it a great way to honor Hughes, who was known as a gentleman to colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

“It’s important to (promote civility) to increase civic involvement,” Florio said. “You have to get people to talk together, or they can’t reason together.”

Whitman, who is on the national advisory board of the institute, said it’s up to all of us to stop the extreme partisan dialogue that is so common today.

People have to start coming out to elections in greater numbers, so small numbers of people — often the most extreme partisans — don’t continue to make all the decisions for the future.

“All we care about is the base today,” Whitman said. “We don’t worry about the middle anymore.”

That’s a big mistake, she said.

On the other hand, Whitman said she has used strong language in her opposition to President Donald Trump.

“I said Hitler had nothing on Trump. I did it to shock,” Whitman said. “I wanted people to look at how language was used in the 1920s and 1930s, when people were encouraged to hate people because of where they came from or because of their religion. How he calls the media fake news.”

That kind of language led us to a very bad place in the early 20th century, and could do so again, Whitman said.

“I wanted people to look and see if they don’t see what I see,” she said.

Giannantonio thanked Florio and Whitman for fighting against “the vile rhetoric in today’s politics,” to loud applause.

Both modeled civil behavior in office, he said.

Ejikeme, 25, was honored for his leadership while getting his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice. He also worked for the Stockton Polling Institute while a student, he said.

Now he works in Washington, D.C., for the Department of Homeland Security, where he works on background checks for those seeking renewed green cards, he said.

“I was so involved when I was a student at Stockton,” Ejikeme said. “It really helped me compete when I was applying for jobs. I’m thankful to Stockton.”

PHOTOS from the Hughes Center Honors